"Give me a decaf triple vente, 2 pump vanilla, non-fat, extra hot, stirred, no foam caramel macchiato with whip cream and caramel sauce top and bottom."
If you happen to be standing in one of the ubiquitous Starbucks or Coffee Bean chains in the US, chances are pretty good you might hear someone order something like this. The advent of big business coffee powerhouses like Starbucks has transformed coffee-drinking into an extremely popular and profitable industry that is quickly spreading across the globe. Like other successful consumer-oriented businesses with a stranglehold on modern culture (iPod and Google come to mind), big coffeehouse businesses have made their product increasingly user-friendly, highly customizable, and readily accessible to people all around the world.
Coffee has a history dating back to at least the 9th century and has been a catalyst for social interaction across cultures and eras. Originally discovered in Ethiopia, coffee beans were brought into the Middle East by Arab traders, spreading to Egypt, Yemen, Persia, Turkey, and North Africa by the 15th century. Muslim merchants eventually brought the beans to the thriving port Coffee Culture city of Venice, where they sold them to wealthy Italian buyers. Soon, the Dutch began importing and growing coffee in places like Java and Ceylon (largely through slave labor), and the British East India Trading Company was popularizing the beverage in England. Coffee spread across Europe and even reached America.
Where there has been coffee, there has been the coffeehouse. From the 15th century Middle Eastern establishments where men gathered to listen to music, play chess, and hear recitations from works of literature, to Paris' Cafe le Procope where luminaries of the French Enlightenment such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot came to enjoy a hot cup of joe, coffeehouses have traditionally served as centers of social interaction, places where people can come to relax, chat, and exchange ideas.
The modern coffee shop is modeled on the espresso and pastry-centered Italian coffeehouses that arose with the establishment of Italian-American immigrant communities in major US cities such as New York City's Little Italy and Greenwich Village, Boston's North End, and San Francisco's North Beach. New York coffee shops were often frequented by the Beats in the 1950's. It wasn't long before Seattle and other parts of the Pacific Northwest were developing coffee shops as part of a thriving counterculture Coffee Culture scene. The Seattle-based Starbucks took this model and brought it into mainstream culture.Japan
Although coffeehouses today continue to serve their traditional purpose as lively social hubs in many communities, they have noticeably adapted to the times. Rediscovering their purpose as centers of information exchange and communication, many coffee shops now provide their customers with internet access and newspapers. It has become extremely common to see someone sitting at a Starbucks listening to music or surfing the web on his or her laptop. Coffee stores today also maintain a fairly identifiable, yet unique aesthetic: wooden furniture and plush couches, paintings and murals drawn on walls, and soft-lighting combine to give coffee shops the cozy feeling of a home away from home.
Today, big business retail coffee shops are expanding quickly all over the world. Starbucks alone has stores in over 40 countries and plans to add more. Despite its popularity, Starbucks has been criticized and labeled by many as a blood-sucking corporate machine, driving smaller coffee shops out of business through unfair practices. This has even spawned an anti-corporate coffee counterculture, with those Coffee Culture subscribing to this culture boycotting big business coffee chains. Increasingly popular coffee stores such as The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf are also giving Starbucks some stiff competition. In any case, it seems pretty clear that coffee has weaved itself into the fabric of our consumer-oriented culture.
Coffee, it would seem, is more than just a drink. From early on after its inception, coffee has been tied closely with cultural trends and has been indicative of important periods in history. It was poured into the cups of the giants of the French Enlightenment as they changed the course of human thought, it was placed on the backs of Brazilian slaves in the era of Imperialism, it's fragrance was in the air as Beat poets like Kerouac and Ginsberg wrote of their alienation, and it is here now as the world continues to change in this era of technology and Coffee Culture globalization. So the next time you enjoy your latte or your ice-cold caramel frappuccino, appreciate the fact that you are connected to countless numbers of people spanning many different cultures and eras through your love of that wondrous beverage: coffee.